It is bittersweet that I will be leaving Cincinnati this summer to become the next CEO of the Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee.
Over the past 16 years, I've been honored to be part of the story of a community lifting itself above its own expectations.
The first step was winning broad support to build a new JCC community campus. We took another step up when forty local organizations, agencies and schools endorsed our 10-year community "Cincinnati 2020" vision. Years of developing the unique collaboration among our Federation, The Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati, and our partner agencies lifted our community to the next level. Succeeding with our Shared Services strategy under which 22 of our non-profits trust their finance, HR and fund-raising functions to our expert team raised us higher still.
As we look towards our future, our Executive Committee has appointed Danielle Minson as President and Interim CEO beginning on July 1, 2021. I have mentored Danielle as a key member of my management team for 15 years. I have promoted her to take on more responsibilities each year. A native Cincinnatian, Danielle has a passion for, and commitment to, our community. She has a keen awareness of both the challenges and opportunities our community is facing.
During the pandemic, I reflected on what has energized me most over the past 16 years. It was organizational growth and transformation. That’s why I chose Sarasota. It is one of the fastest growing Jewish communities in America and they are seeking models for their Federation that are new and innovative. It will also offer opportunities similar to those that I found when I arrived here. For example, I will be managing the construction and launch of a new 33-acre community campus. My goal will be to make their campus as transformative as our Mayerson JCC and its campus has been here.
I am grateful to have worked with so many of you to help this community reach its potential. I will miss seeing you at the J Cafe and around town. But I’ll be watching from Florida with excitement to see the next steps in this community’s remarkable journey. In Hebrew, we don’t say goodbye. We say l’hitraot —see you later.
Child death is mentioned in this letter. Reader discretion is advised
May is a warm month of colorful flowers - a gift from April's sky full of showers. Like the quality of rain, which can be gentle drops of blessing, or a torrential, horizontal sheet of brute force, the month of May holds a special, but sometimes emotional Sunday, called Mother's Day.
For all the ways that Mother's Day is celebratory and beautiful, there are also ways that Mother's Day is hard. The same person can experience both simultaneously.
Mother is not solely limited to one person; our complex and traumatic world needs people of any gender expression to come to believe that mother is an accessible, non-discriminatory way of knowing and acting which reveals the ideals of love, reconciliation, and unconditional acceptance.
I want to expand on this by sharing that we have been honored to be Family Fellows, Cohort 5, through YATOM: The Jewish Foster and Adoption Network. This is a year-long commitment. YATOM is inspired by the Torah commandment to love and protect vulnerable children.
We are Judy and Brian Wallace, an Orthodox Jewish family from Cincinnati OH since 2015, and we have been married for 20 years. Judy brought her daughter, Rose, now age 27, into the family at our marriage; and Brian adopted her when she turned 18 in 2011. Our first son, born in 2002, to our deep grief, died in NICU. We are grateful to have had four bio sons after this loss, and another bio daughter as well: Ilan 17, Efraim, 16, Shimi, 15, Yossi 14, and Elisheva 9. Our grief from losing a child taught us compassion for all birth parents who have not been privileged to raise their bio children, as their own choice or as a choice that was made for them. We are open to fostering kids/teens, and/or a sibling group, and are licensed up to 4 at a time. The process to be approved as a foster family through YATOM and the state of Ohio was long and rigorous.
The foster agency phoned us Wednesday afternoon, saying there's a sibling placement for us for Friday. A foster placement of a baby and his "big brother", age 6, came in our front door, with a fill-in social worker and her supervisor on speaker phone. It was November, and we were their third placement.
Each of the holidays that followed brought its own milestones. By Chanukah, the "big brother" had asked for a Shabbos shirt, to wear at the shabbos table, to be like his four older foster brothers, and came with his foster brothers to the head of the table to receive the traditional children's blessing of peace from the father; he had always said no to the blessing before.
Purim was superlative — preparing (and munching from) the shaloch manos, hamentashen, the food for the seuda meal, the costumes! But it was also a school day for public school, so the "big brother" was fearful that we would have Purim without him. I said I would not ever leave him out — if the family was able to go to a fun event, he would surely be included. He said, "Because that would be so mean to be left out...."
Then on March 5, another Friday we were standing on the driveway with the children from foster care, and with the county social worker; her big van was there to hold the much-increased belongings of the children, loading it all up. Less than a day earlier, we had been told the children were being removed from our home to be placed with a biological relative, exiting foster care.
I said, "Thank you for the amazing gift that no one can take away: you made me a foster mom. l was never a foster mom until you came to our home. We were so happy to welcome you here with us, and we loved
having you here, and we love you. Now l am a real foster mom!" He thought for a few moments, and after a minute, his mouth brightened with a happy smile.
I had said, "Now I am a real foster mom!" and, while smiling, he said, "It was a Chanukah miracle!!"
When Judy and I thought about something meaningful that we could do for society during the pandemic, we thought about fostering. We figured that if some family systems were in jeopardy prior to such a pandemic, surely there would be all the more need during such times. And apparently we were right, considering we had an emergency placement within 2 days of getting fully certified. What surprised me about the experience were the reactions of family and friends. My Jewish friends almost without fail automatically started by asking if the children were Jewish. As far as I’m concerned, Jews have a duty to help by being a light unto the nations. After this question, the next most common misconception (well intended maybe but odd nonetheless) was if we adopted the children. I think that it is a blessing to have had these children in our lives, even for a short time. And I pray that we made a difference in theirs.
Judy and Brian Wallace